My body wasn’t made to reproduce. I have defective parts. I have an abnormal uterus known as a septate uterus, but even after surgery is still considered bicornuate. My cervix is dynamic and incompetent. The septate uterus should have resulted in many first term losses, but my first baby implanted in the correct spot. Even then though my cervix was too weak to carry that pregnancy and I went into preterm labor at 20 weeks.
During my first pregnancy after loss my OB told me I was just “someone who needed medical intervention” to stay pregnant.
When my first son was born, I was relieved. He was out now. My body could no longer fail him.
And then came breastfeeding.
At first, I was a lactation goddess. Everyone told me that I would be good at it – “you’re leaking already!” My milk came in strong. Overflowing actually. It would spray onto his little face. I was nourishing my rainbow and it felt so good. Especially after feeling like my milk coming in was a slap in the face after losing my daughter. I was able to nurse him. We were bonding. I felt like a superhero.
But then at 8 weeks I returned to work and suddenly my supply started to dwindle. I had a healthy supply of frozen milk and assumed this was what it was for. But it soon became clear that I wasn’t keeping up with his needs. I called a lactation consultant and took the advice to heart. Nothing worked. Fenugreek. Oats. Gallons of water. Extra pumping sessions. Extra nursing sessions. You name it, I tried it.
The supply continued to decrease and our frozen reserves dwindled. My baby became very fussy because he was hungry. I remember one day my husband joking that “famine was on the horizon” and I broke down in tears. The pediatrician suggested supplementing with formula. Actually she didn’t suggest it, she ordered it. We had to because baby was losing weight and he was hungry.
I felt like such a failure. Once again my body failed me.
I couldn’t nourish my child. The one I finally got here safe and sound. Why did this happen? Why couldn’t I do it? It was supposed to be so easy and natural.
I was sent to another doctor who also was a lactation consultant. She asked that my baby come along so that we could do a full assessment. After discussing my history, loss included, and watching me nurse my son, she looked over some paperwork and asked about my last menstrual period, noting I may not remember but the nurse hadn’t filled out that part. But I did know when it was. It was only 4 weeks prior. I got my period again at 8 weeks postpartum. She said, “Really? Then I bet it’s a hormone issue.” She ran tests and sure enough I don’t make enough prolactin to produce breast milk. No amount of supplements, water, eating my weight in oatmeal, barley or flax seed was going to help. My body doesn’t produce enough of the hormone so none of that would work.
Because we figured it out, she was able to prescribe a drug to help me lactate. I just “needed medical intervention” to produce milk.
It was a relief to finally have an answer. But it hurt too. My body can’t sustain a pregnancy and it can’t nourish a baby.
After losing my first child, I spent a lot of time in therapy trying to forgive myself for what my body couldn’t accomplish. It took a lot to believe I wasn’t at fault for her death. I couldn’t be held responsible for something completely outside my control. Surely if I could control my cervix I would have!
And here I was faced with another deep feeling of failure. I had to yet again reconcile with the fact that my body couldn’t do something that I desperately wanted it to. Not naturally anyway. Not the way I had imagined it would be. It felt particularly harsh.
I thought it would be so easy to get pregnant and deliver a healthy baby. When that didn’t happen, it didn’t occur to me that other stuff wouldn’t come as easily either. I just assumed I’d been through the worst, and now everything would work out perfectly.
Add to it the culture of my city and the immense pressure it puts on mamas to breastfeed, I didn’t want to admit “failure.” I couldn’t bear to tell anyone that I had to take medicine to do it much less that I’d already fed him (gasp!) formula!
But I worked through it.
Once again I reminded myself and had to accept that I cannot control all aspects of my body. I can’t control the strength of my cervix. I can’t control how my organs formed in utero. I can’t control how the levels of hormones I produce. If I could, I would.
And medical advances happen for a reason. I’m lucky I got a cerclage so that further losses wouldn’t recur, and that I was able to carry a baby at all. I’m grateful that a drug exists to allow me the option to breastfeed if I want to. My body’s failure is no longer the focus, my perseverance is. I took a course of action to get my baby here safe and sound. And I would go to great lengths to make sure he got everything he needed to thrive no matter how that would have to happen.
I’ve had four babies since losing Lily. All required a cerclage. All required Domperidone to make milk. As I approach the dreaded 12-week milk production dip with my last baby, I’m okay if I don’t breastfeed him until he’s one. Or even past 6 months.
In the end, it doesn’t matter how they got here. They’re here! It doesn’t matter how they’re fed. Soon enough they’ll spend all their lunch money on Mountain Dew and Oreos.
What matters is that my babies are loved.